Lost Illusions, Bitter Wisdom and Fragile Hope in The Tempest
Is Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, a drama of lost illusions, bitter wisdom and fragile hope? Before this question can be considered, one first has to interpret these terms. Perhaps "bitter wisdom" and "fragile hope" are fairly simple concepts to understand, "lost illusions" is somewhat less clear, particularly in the case of The Tempest.
There are three main interpretations of "lost illusions" that could be made. The first is that of a revelation of the mind; the discarding of an 'illusion' to reveal the truth of one's feelings. The second is similar but with a subtle difference; the lifting of an illusion to disclose the truth about something physical (instead of emotional, as in the first case). The last interpretation could not be applied to every use of the word 'illusion,' but suits The Tempest extremely well; this third analysis revolves around magic and the supernatural world.
There are several clear examples from the text to illustrate these various points of view. For the first case we have the character of Prospero who, by the end of the play, has realised that he requires more in his life than his Art of magic. He comes to acknowledge that he needs a change of environment, however much he will miss his old life on the island. For the second interpretation, we have the circumstances surrounding Antonio's usurpation of Prospero's title (told only in flashbacks); the true events that occurred then only come to light at the end of the play, when Prospero reveals the entire story to the assembled characters. The third interpretation, that of magic, is present throughout the play, as Prospero exerts his supernatural talents upon the shipwrecked passengers and crew - of course, even the shipwreck itself is an illusion. This is made particularly clear in Act V Scene I, lines 123-125:
Gon. Whether this be
Or be not, I'll not swear.
Pros. You do yet taste
Some subtleties o' the isle, that will not let you
Believe things certain.
So, lost illusions play a very important part in the play. However, to determine the validity of of the entire title, it is necessary to examine several of the main characters individually.
As mentioned above, Prospero loses several illusions during the course of the play. Most obviously, he loses his Art of illusions. However, he also realises that his life requires change; this is his "bitter wisdom," as he reluctantly accepts that he must leave everything behind and return to Milan. Prospero displays a particularly fragile hope - he himself acknowledges that his future may not be a particularly happy one, when he states (Act V Scene I, lines 310-311):
And thence retire me to my Milan, where
Every third thought shall be my grave.
Miranda also fits the title; more so than Prospero, in fact. Almost all her life she has lived upon the island and has little or no...